Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Guest Post by Barb Geiger:
In 1998, I went to New York to visit my darling Dvorah. I'd just come back from living in Japan for a couple of years, but New York was a world in itself. I remember sitting on a horse in mid-afternoon workday traffic at a light, because the stables were three blocks away from Central Park and riding a horse through the park had been a lifelong, bucket-list goal. Devo took me to a bookstore that was like the used bookstores in the movies, with bookcases up to the ceiling and one of those push ladders that goes around the perimetre and the smell of old books and dust had permeated every soft surface in the building.
I bought Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. They say if cookbooks have one go-to recipe, it's a good book (though they said that before the age of the internet). I think with writing books, if it has one nugget of truth in it, it's worth it too. This one had a line about a chapter is the length it takes for one thing to change in the book and the example he gave was Chapter 15: I'm pregnant.
It made me think that not just every chapter, but every scene needs to have something that changes. Which is why "Just Write" in general and having a daily word count quota in particular bothers me so much.
2000 words is a good length for the average scene. Some will be more, some less, but when I was trying to recapture my passion in my writing, I'd ask that every time I sat down, I'd write a scene from start to finish. Getting it all down in a single sitting gave the scene a cohesiveness in flow, but also, it made sure when the one (or more) things changed, that the scene ended without the character wandering off and filling up the page with unnecessary filler.
But I didn't write every day if I didn't have that thing that the next scene needed to do. Sometimes I'd be brushing my teeth and the next scene would pop out of my skull fully formed like Athena, but sometimes even if I knew exactly what I wanted to happen, I still couldn't write it. Rather than fighting that block and just pushing through, I examined the lack of desire under the microscope. I had three questions I asked myself and worked through them until I had a solution.
1. Why don't I want to write this scene? This could be an outside problem -- exhaustion often crept in, but again I have skittering spiders in my skull instead of brain matter. If I was bored, I couldn't yet make myself do anything yet. Like a good horse trainer, I realized early on that if a section of my story bores me, it's been boring my reader for a while. Upping the stakes, the conflict and the action did a lot to make me more engaged with writing.
2. Is something missing? I can't say how many times I just wanted to write a simple scene where X happened, but it blocks me for three days. And when I finally sit down, a whole new scene emerges that changes everything, or becomes the emotional heartbeat. When I've worked through step 1 and I still don't want to write it, the problem needs more thinking about.
3. So if step 1 and 2 don't work, and I've given step 2 enough time to work through the problem, it makes me think of the story as a whole. If I still don't want to write, I look at the whole piece. I haven't had to do this for a while, but I've cut up to 40k of a novel in a single sitting, just because the path those series of decisions the characters made led to a blind canyon and the only way out is back. I've read too many books where the writer just ploughs that initial problem further into the story with sheer will, and that's just not how I write.
If I met a baby writer who asked me for their opinion, I'd tell them my "write three books" theory of starting out. But if the writer has already turned their writing from their hobby to a chore they dislike doing, recapturing the motivation to write is their problem.
Because between being motivated to write and being disciplined to write, motivation wins every time. I do write every day. I want to write every day and I enjoy writing every day. But I got there by not writing for days and weeks and on two separate occasions, for more than a year. Learning how to write every day is far more important than just writing every day, and I don't care what Stephen King says.
A later post-script:
And I just want to say I don't think Stephen King is wrong. And it's no concession to say that. But seriously, I do think his take home message is incorrect. When he says pros sit down and do the work it takes to produce at a level to be a professional writer, he's not wrong. But the idea that people should not wait around for inspiration is the bit I have a problem with. I dislike the word "wait" because when you hit that inspiration, you're inspired, and nothing inspires inspiration like inspiration. Amateurs become pros because they stop waiting around for inspiration.
Because no one is waiting with bated breath for work the new writer had to force out. Quality over quantity eventually matters, and too many writers quit trying to write before they ever get there.
Barb Geiger is an author/editor and is currently finishing up an MFA.
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Best Fan Related Work
Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating Canada
Best Fan Organizational
Derek Künsken and Marie Bilodeau, co-chairs, Can-Con, Ottawa
Best Fan Writing and Publications
Polar Borealis, Issues #9 to #12, R. Graeme Cameron editor
Dan O'Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press and cover for On Spec Magazine #110
Best Visual Presentation
The Umbrella Academy, Steve Blackman, Dark Horse Entertainment
Best Related Work
On Spec Magazine, Diane L. Walton, Managing Editor, The Copper Pig Writers Society
Best Poem/Song (tie!)
At the Edge of Space and Time by Swati Chavda, Love at the Speed of Light, Ancient Hound Books
Bursts of Fire by Sora, theme song for book trailers
Best Graphic Novel
Krampus is My Boyfriend! by S.M. Beiko, Webcomic
Best Short Fiction
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, Saga Press
Best Young Adult Novel
5 by Susan Forest, Burst of FireLaksa Media Groups Inc
The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books
I was blown away this year by the quality of the shortlist: there was no one nominated who didn't deserve to be there. Even though there were several categories where the winner wasn't the work I had voted for, it didn't matter because the winners were still works that I greatly admired. The winners and shortlist makes me proud to be Canadian. The genre of Canadian speculative fiction, both in quantity and quality, has come a very long way since 1980 when the Award started.
I also have to say that the awards ceremony sets the new bar for virtual ceremonies. There were almost no glitches and host Mark Leslie Lefebvre covered perfectly, never fazed. The organization, the smooth switching from site to site, from speaker to speaker, was clearly the result of careful planning and behind the scenes workings of a dedicated logistical crew. It could not have gone better, and in many ways, was better than live (except could actual applause).
Hall of Fame Inductees for 2020
Cory Doctorow; Matt Hughes, Heather Dale
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
My thanks to Senior Editor Jana Begovic for choosing it.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
For folks who are unfamiliar with the term, a "MacGuffin" is an object, a device, an event, or a character used in fiction as a plot device to advance the story that is unfolding. We see MacGuffins regularly in speculative fiction, whether it be the Infinity Gauntlet, the Death Star, the One Ring, or the Ark of the Covenant, and these objects serve to push the plot of the story.
However, there is a tendency, particularly in serialized stories, television shows, or movies toward a perceived need to create a bigger and bigger MacGuffin for each book/season/film. Jurassic World even self-consciously referenced this when characters commented on people needing a bigger and more advanced dinosaur to draw them to the park. The idea is that people want to see something bigger and better for the next instalment of their story. They expect characters to "level up" from one story to the next and perceive them as needing a bigger challenge.
I will use Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example:
Season 1 "Big Bad": A vampire
Season 2 "Big Bad": A vampire Buffy loves
Season 3 "Big Bad": A mayor who becomes a demon and a vampire slayer who has turned evil
Season 4 "Big Bad": A demon/cyborg hybrid and a secret military organization
Season 5 "Big Bad": A demon goddess
Season 6 "Big Bad": A witch turned evil
Season 7 "Big Bad": The First Evil
Each season requires something bigger to follow it in order to keep the audience's attention.
This pattern isn't coming from out of nowhere. It reflects a pattern in our society. Our economic system is one that requires constant growth. The perception is that every company needs to keep growing and expanding. Anything that maintains a pattern and doesn't grow is perceived to be a failure. This pattern affects the way we view anything that doesn't continue to grow and expand and we perceive anything that doesn't expand as stagnant and failing. Even in our own lives, we are expected to constantly grow from our jobs and once we find one that doesn't let us continue growing, we perceive it as stagnating us and we need to move to something else. This type of continual expansion isn't feasible. Eventually we reach limits and pushing further can often cause collapse.
The problem with this bigger and bigger MacGuffin per season is that it tends to eventually end. Eventually, it is impossible to get bigger. Eventually the plot devices also become sillier and sillier and lose their impact. The weapon that can kill a person becomes the weapon that can destroy a city, becomes the weapon that can destroy a country, becomes the weapon that can destroy a planet, becomes the... you get the pattern. As the MacGuffins and the characters become more and more powerful, the story loses its human component. It becomes further separated from something the audience can identify with.
Exponential growth isn't possible. Eventually everything starts to reach its boundaries and can't grow further.
Is it possible for us to continue telling a story without requiring a bigger and bigger MacGuffin? Yes, but that pattern would need to be set early on and growth would have to be challenged in the series. Does the narrator need to keep becoming stronger? Or can they develop and change in different ways? Can they have life happen without getting "better"? Does the danger they face need to get stronger, or can it change? Can each threat bring out something new in the narrator?
I don't think a bigger MacGuffin is always the way to keep a story going. It isn't powerful writing to resort to only one aspect of the story changing. There are so many other parts of the story that can change without having one plot device grow exponentially.
Friday, June 12, 2020
Friday, May 22, 2020
Lorina Stephens today announced the closing of Five Rivers Publishing.
The press, unlike so many others, did not fail. It was in fact thriving, but family issues related to Lorina taking on eldercare made it impossible for her to continue Five Rivers Publishing. I am sad to see Five Rivers go, but Lorina’s reasons are altruistic and it was the right decision.
Lorina helped many authors launch their careers, and her belief in me made my career as a professional editor possible. It was an honour and a privilege for me to have been associated with Five Rivers for nearly a decade.
I hope that Lorina is able to continue her own writing. Her own books were, in my view, undervalued. I met Lorina (online) when I was one of the few reviewers to find and rave about her first novel, and it was through that contact that I became a beta reader on her second novel, then an Editor at Five Rivers, and then Senior Editor. I watched Lorina put more time into the press than into her own writing, and I know she always paid authors, editors, and artists before she took a dime herself.
She put her time, energy, and money into the press because she believed in the community of writers, editors, and artists that she gathered around her. She made it all work in spite of the turmoil in the publishing industry: Five Rivers survived and thrived when other independent presses around her were wiped out.
My hat is off to her vision, her stubborn survival in difficult times, and her promotion of Canadian voices in literature.
I will always be grateful to Lorina and to Five Rivers.
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
My flash fiction, "Fami’s Dissertation Defense" was published today by RIPPLES IN SPACE and is available free at: https://ripplesinspacecom.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/famis-dissertation-defense.pdf The tagline is "Having your AI pass the Turing Test may not be the problem…"
Friday, May 8, 2020
My memorial essay, "Dave Duncan's Legacy" in On Spec magazine #111 has been shortlisted for an Aurora Award, in the "Best Related" category. It is an honour to be nominated, but it is up against five magazines, an anthology, and a podcast, all of which are extremely worthy and all of which represent much more sustained effort than my one essay. So, happy to take being shortlisted as validation of the essay, but the others need their much more substantial contributions to be validated by the win. Good luck to them all, I know I will have difficulty choosing which of them to vote for.
Friday, April 24, 2020
The first lists the sort of problems unprofessional reviewers present for authors
The second is a research paper on how unprofessional reviews harm women and minorities more than CIS white males:
Friday, April 10, 2020
As an editor and writing coach, I often use examples of what not to do in my workshops, but I have always tried to alter the example sufficiently so they are no-longer identifiable even to the author, should they happen to be in the audience; or I make up examples out of whole cloth—it's usually simple enough to come up with a composite that's no one but everyone.
Although now largely out of fashion, I remember when Lionel Fanthorpe novels were considered the worst SF ever written--which, given pulp origins of the genre, is saying a lot. Fanthorpe readings were frequently used as opening inspiration at writers' workshops on the grounds that they were so bad, listeners would be reassured that if Fanthorpe could get published, then surely anyone at the workshop could also. I certainly found Fanthorpe readings inspiring and have a small collection of original Fanthorpe novels which I pick up from time to time to reassure myself that I am, indeed, not the worst author ever.
I feel Fanthorpe's early novels were fair game because he was blissfully unaware that anyone was making fun of his books until he turned up at a Worldcon decades later with an actually pretty good fantasy novel and was flabbergasted that anyone had ever heard his name before. He dismissed those 180 (or so—I don't think even he knows for sure how many there were anymore) novels from the 1950/60s as the contracted processed cheese they were intended to be. His contract was to turn out a book of exactly 148 pages to match the cover he was allotted, and so sometimes his endings were a little drawn out or a little abrupt depending on how far from, or close to, the 148-page limit he was getting. His early works deserve mockery and admiration in equal measure (let's see you grind out a book a week) and he never thought of those books as other than a beginning job he held before going on to become a school teacher, headmaster, church minister, TV personality, and actual author (books on theology, education, and a popular mystery series co-authored with his wife). If you look Fanthorpe up on Wikipedia etc, he turned out to be an uber-cool guy, so, he can take it.
I think Fanthorpe readings have ultimately fallen out of fashion because, with vanity self-publishing, new nominees for worst science fiction or fantasy novel appear hourly. By 'vanity self-publishing', I mean those authors who self-publish their first draft novel without the benefit of editors or beta readers, and who have no interest in grammar, spelling, critical feedback, self-reflection, or getting better. They often knock off a new novel in their self-referential series every few weeks. These people are defined by their ego rather than quality writing or story-telling. Vanity self-publishing has given the general category of self-publishing a bad name. Legitimate self-publishing authors--those who put real effort into multiple drafts, pay for professional editing and professional cover artists and so on--now refer to themselves as 'independently published' to distinguish themselves from the great unedited masses. I believe in self/independent-publishing and much of it is good and some of it is great. But there is no challenge any longer in finding titles that are so terrible they are unintentionally self-satires or to call into question the efficacy of the entire enterprise of modern schooling.
The above video, then, reminds us that critiquing these horribly-written novels is too easy and maybe not something we should be doing. Let us all take the pledge not to consciously bully anyone. Instead, let us recognize that while much self-publishing or fanfiction or etc is terrible, at least a percentage of these authors will likely strive to improve and a percentage of those may become quite good, and a percentage of those may become excellent, ultimately producing a thousand new great authors we might not otherwise have. I am somewhat encouraged by Krista Ball's comment that the same 12-yr-old male trolls she argued with on Readit some years ago have matured into senior teens now arguing on her side for grammar, growth and diversity. So...let's search for the best books, not the worst.
Friday, April 3, 2020
Saturday, February 29, 2020
I thought I would mention a fun market for short story writers, especially if you're blocked. The First Line Literary Magazine is an American market that pays up to $50 and does not charge reader fees. (The one catch is if you want a hard copy of the magazine and you're in Canada, you have to pay $15 for mailing, so if your's is a shorter submission and only earns $15, you might end up having to choose between a copy of the magazine or the $15.)
The two things that make First Line attractive, however, are (1) they're very nice, very professional (e.g., accepted authors are sent proofs before it goes to print so you can see any changes--they caught an embarrassing typo of mine, for example, and made some sensible line edits) and have been around for a long time, so you don't have any worries about dealing with them; and (2) they give you the first line of the story which cannot be altered in any way. That's the whole concept of the magazine. Every story in every issue starts with the same line and it is totally fascinating how different authors' minds take that line in totally different directions. Fun, right! It's a great way to give yourself a little writing exercise by writing a story to that one line, and see what comes out. Some times my regular cast of characters elbow there way into this spontaneous exercise and I suddenly have yet another story in their growing collection. Other times a completely new character /situation comes to mind, and I'm off and running. Either way, it's a break from my WIP and kicks any writer's block you may have to the side. And they are often wicked-good first lines! The sort of first lines you wish you'd thought of.
I've written four stories for the magazine so far: two have been accepted for publication, one is awaiting the submission period for that particular first line (they tell you the year's worth of first lines ahead of time) and one they rejected. I didn't mind getting rejected at all. Because my story was up against hundreds of other stories with the exact same opening! How could you take that personally? (When any magazine rejects your story, it's often because they already have a story for that particular niche, not necessarily that they didn't like your story. With this magazine, it's all that niche!) And, I was able to place that story (with just a very minor change to the opening line) to a different market a couple of weeks later.
As a writing exercise, it's hard to beat, and if they publish your story, you're in pretty good company and its great fun to see how other writers approached the same starting point that you had. It really opens your mind to possibilities.
If you are ever having trouble coming up with ideas or just want a break from your WIP, I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Every writer should be checking posts on Writer Beware on a regular basis to keep up with all the new scams out there. Here's this week's: Impersonation
A simple rule to follow: don't ever pay anyone anything. Money flows to the writer not to the publisher/agent.
The only exception is that some literary journals charge a $3 submission fee to pay for their submission software. This seems reasonable to me because it would cost about $3 to mail in your manuscript, if anyone still used the mail rather than one of the three or four industry standard submission systems.
Sometimes legitimate contests charge $$ to enter. I have occasionally entered a contest that charged in the $30 range, but only because the submission fee included a subscription to the magazine, which was also around $30, and I actually wanted to subscribe to that magazine. I generally don't go above $5 for contest reading fees otherwise, because the odds of winning are just too low to justify the expense. If you want to give away your money, buy a lottery ticket instead. I never-ever pay $$ for contests that are not associated with a magazine I'm already reading or a charity I support (e.g., I'm happy to pay $5 to enter the Merril Collection SF&F fiction contest). There are a number of contests that charge hefty fees as well as demanding hard copies of your book, but these often appear to be pure scammer. Again, see the post from Writers Beware on contests for details.
Generally, if you're paying someone else, you're being had.
Friday, February 7, 2020
The review is by Graeme Cameron (editor of Polar Borealis and a long-time critic and reviewer) and published Feb 7,2020 on Amazing Stories website: https://amazingstories.com/2020/02/clubhouse-review-north-by-2000-an-anthology-by-henry-a-hargreaves/
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Horror/fantasy writer, Den Valdron, provides a powerful essay on the opposite: how a story where not much happens had a profound influence on his understanding of his own life history by providing the central metaphor for his lifestory: http://denvaldron.com/2020/01/08/h-p-lovecraft-and-me/
"That’s what good writing is, I guess. It’s more than just description and people and things happening to other things. It’s all that, and that’s fine, it’s even great. But really good writing touches who we are, it makes us feel, it makes us see ourselves in it, and see it in ourselves. It shows us things."
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
This article does a good job of explaining the problem and listing five examples of stock photo sources with appropriately diverse content: